Monday 24 June 2019

'It isn't up to schools to monitor children's weight' - Top dietitian says it's up to parents or the GP

  • Top dietitian says weighing children has led to eating disorders in the past
  • TV presenter describes being "shredded" after being weighed in school
  • Comments follow suggestion from TD last week to weigh children in schools to tackle obesity
There may be an increase in obesity but there is also an increase in eating disorders, an Irish dietitian claims.
There may be an increase in obesity but there is also an increase in eating disorders, an Irish dietitian claims.
Rachel Farrell

Rachel Farrell

A leading dietitian has warned against a suggestion made by a TD about weighing children in schools to tackle childhood obesity.

Fianna Fail's spokesperson for Children and Youth Affairs Anne Rabbitte suggested that "normalising" the weighing of children in schools would help with early prevention for childhood obesity at the Joint Committee on children and youth affairs last week.

The suggestions received mixed views online with many people criticising the idea, saying it could lead to body shaming among peers and eating disorders.

A poll by Independent.ie revealed that 69pc of readers were against the idea of weighing children in school, compared to 31pc in favour.

Aveen Bannon, a consultant dietitian at the Dublin Nutrition Centre, said she couldn't see how the idea would work in schools and that there are “huge societal reasons” behind obesity.

“I really don’t like the idea, it could easily lead to body shaming among kids, and who is to interpret the results? It could be a good way of accumulating data but on an individual basis I don’t see how it would work,” Ms Bannon told Independent.ie.

“My feeling is that it isn’t up to schools to monitor children’s weight but perhaps the parents or GP.  

“There are huge societal reasons for obesity it’s not as simple as eat less move more. The number on the scales does not tell you the whole picture.”

Aveen Bannon. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Aveen Bannon. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Read More: This is how the Dutch are tackling childhood obesity - it's simpler than you'd think 

The top dietitian said that the process could have both positive and negative implications, but that it would be difficult for schools to find the “time and facility” to carry it out.

“A positive would be accumulating data on levels of obesity in Ireland. The cons are potential body shaming. 

“If done in a private room and the child is not told the weight it could work but not all schools will have the time or facility to do this. You do not know how a child might react to their weight, or they could compare with others.”

Ms Bannon added that some children develop eating disorders from discussing weight with their peers, something she has seen in the past.

“As children’s weights will differ at the same age depending on their height you may find kids thinking they're big compared to their friends.

“There is an increase in obesity but there is also an increase in eating disorders. We need to reduce both.

“I have seen kids in clinic who have developed an eating disorder that was triggered by them realising they weighed more than their friends - they didn’t understand to think about height.”

An alternative method for monitoring a child's weight and fitness could be done through their physical education class, Ms Bannon says.

“I am definitely in favour of them monitoring fitness as part of a PE program. Daily activity that will mean fitness measurement of some form,” she said.

“Teaching cooking or food prep of healthy foods. Teaching portion sizes and a balanced approach about food, getting away from good versus bad and showing how exercise, variety and portions are important for health.”

British TV presenter Jameela Jamil, who has previously spoken about her experience with anorexia, described the idea as “problematic”. 

“They did this to us at our school and by the end of the week we were all obsessed with our weight. I understand that there is an obesity crisis, but this seems like a problematic way to handle it,” she said on Twitter. 

“Weighing oneself is not the only or right way to monitor health.”

The actress and broadcaster said she was “shredded” by fellow students when she was weighed in maths class for an assignment.

“At the weigh in I was the heaviest girl in my class and was shredded by the other girls who now had a number to taunt me with. 

“They weighed us for maths class just to teach us about percentages. Schools can be so blind sometimes.”

She added that experience can add” trauma” to a child’s experience in school.

“So many horror stories about people’s damage around being weighed at school. I hope we can find a way to stop this. 

“Adults underestimate the trauma to the child in the current state of a society that so heavily and constantly shames people who are not thin.”

Ms Rabbitte said last week that we should take away the stigma of weighing children and that creating a database will help monitor the issue.

"It’s nothing wrong about weighing, we should take away the stigmatising of it,” she said on Newstalk Breakfast.

“If we’re really serious about it, weighing children and weighing is part of one of the components in gathering the data. You cannot gather data and have a database without the weight measurement."

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